When Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins realized there was a chance to visit his great uncle’s gravesite in South Korea, he took it.
There were two other reasons Calkins went to Korea during Remembrance Day: he plans to sponsor Senator Yonah Martin’s private members bill to establish a national day of commemoration of the Korean War and to speak with Canadian veterans who served in Korea.
July 27, 2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War and Calkins feels it will be an important time, “It’s a difficult thing as MP to not be in your constituency on Veteran’s Day.”
He left Nov. 9 and had four days in South Korea with stops in Busan and Seoul. The first two days were in Busan, which gave him a chance to visit his great uncle’s gravesite who served and died in the Korean War in February 1951. “This is the personal reason I decided to go.”
He feels Canadians could be doing more to remember the veterans who fought in that war but he credits South Korean policy makers for the respect they give to the United Nations Memorial Cemetery maintained by a Canadian whose father is buried there.
In a country of 50 million people, Calkins said there is a mass of people, buildings and high-speed transit, “yet no building can cast a shadow on that cemetery.”
No matter where the sun is in the sky the government shows respect to all the veterans who are buried there, he explained.
The first evening during his trip Calkins had dinner with veterans who had not been back to South Korea since the war ended. He was able to hear their stories, which he said was a humbling experience. One of the veterans — a survivor of the Battle of Kapyong where Canadian and Australian troops successfully stopped the advance of the Chinese army in difficult conditions — presented a painting of the battle to the Korean War Museum. “The only artifact in the museum not Korean.”
The museum is a place that honours the sacrifices of veterans of the past.
“Not only Canadian vets, but vets from our allies,” Calkins said.
Something that struck Calkins as interesting was his trip to the museum, which was filled with young Korean children who were playing in designated parts of the building. He believes it is a way to remind them of the past.
“They can come and play and regale in the freedom they have,” he explained. “To be in the war museum and hear the laughter in children is something that stands out in my mind.”
Calkins and Senator Martin also had a chance to see pictures of the first Imjin Hockey Tournament held in 1952, still played this day by Canadian expats living in Seoul.
Canadian veterans played their own hockey tournament in the cold winter months on the Imjin River and it has created a tradition.
Aside from the main purpose of his trip, Calkins also visited his colleagues on the last day of the trip, at the Korean National Assembly to discuss Canada’s free trade agreement with South Korea. Talks are still under way but he wanted to try and ensure equal access for Canadian beef as beef from the United States. “Otherwise we’re at a competitive disadvantage as the U.S.”
The trip was something Calkins enjoyed but he will remember his solemn visit to the United Nations Memorial Cemetery and how Canadian veterans are revered there.